Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2010-12-07


Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness Vol. 2: Congo Classics 1977-1993 (Sterns Africa, 2010) With Mobutu squeezing every fantasy of affluence out of Congolese life as he strove to consolidate his power, soukous's greatest vocalist felt the pinch as recording studios, pressing plants, and his own label broke down. And though his velvet tenor remained strong and flexible as he turned 40 and then 50, his spirit faltered. As usual, Ken Braun makes the most of a discographical briar patch, most of it originally released as dance-length two-sided 45s. There's nothing approaching a clinker on these two CDs--mourning a teacher or going disco, Tabu Ley remains an ineradicable rumba original, a lover of melody and leader of men. But only at the start of disc two does the music enter the transcendant realm where the first volume lives: with "Kabasele in Memoriam" and "Lisanga Ya Banganga," both long known to American soukous fans from Franco & Rochereau's Omona Wapi, whose other two tracks woudld flow right in as well. Conclusion: although Rochereau has lived a longer and happier life, his rival and coequal probably lived an edgier and deeper one. A

Angola Soundtrack (Analog Africa, 2010) These 18 carefully sequenced, thoroughly annotated tracks are the musical spoor of the 12-year leadup to a cruelly delayed independence that was followed immediately by three decades of civil war. Thus it's even more poignant than the soon-to-be-dashed hopes you hear in the early pop of other African nations. Given its Lusophone provenance, its Latinisms are remarkably un-Brazilian, dominated by son, merengue, and especially the rumba-twice-removed of the big boys just north in Congo. Song per se doesn't count for much--singing often seems an afterthought to the basic mode of trebly guitar atop indigenous polyrhythms, crude and palpably rural compared to the Congolese jams it emulates and often evokes. But the sense of possibility is undercut only by the occasional hint of saudade. B+

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